Pause in public Masses is time to deepen spirituality
By Glen Argan
With widespread orders from bishops across North America and Europe to cancel public Masses including the Sunday Eucharist, some naysayers were bound to arise. Me, I agree with the bishops who have temporarily halted public Masses, first, because I believe in the sacredness of human life and, second, because this pause in Masses provides an opportunity for Catholics to develop a wider spirituality.
Cardinal Raymond Burke is one who wants the Mass to be publicly available apparently regardless of the loss of human life that might result from such availability. “In considering what is needed to live, we must not forget that our first consideration is our relationship with God,” Burke wrote on his website March 21. His remarks were reported by Religion News Service.
“There is no question that great evils like pestilence are an effect of original sin and of our actual sins. God, in his justice, must repair the disorder which sin introduces into our lives and into our world,” Burke wrote. He singled out pop culture, abortion, euthanasia, attacks on the integrity of human sexuality and “gender theory” as examples of sins in need of God’s reparative action.
R.R. Reno, editor of the journal First Things, likewise wrote, “The Church’s concern should be to sustain the spiritual health of those entrusted to her care. Closing churches and cancelling services betrays this duty of spiritual care…
“In this environment the faithful need spiritual truths from their Church leaders, not recapitulations of public health bulletins and exhortations to wash their hands.”
Both writers suffer from the belief that the sacraments, in particular, the Eucharist, are the only forms of spiritual care that Church leaders can provide. Not true. The Second Vatican Council wisely taught that the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life. Implied in that statement is the belief that underneath the summit – in effect, supporting the summit – is a great conglomeration of other spiritual activities which are vital to Christian life.
Such spiritual activities would include personal prayer, meditative reading of Scripture, other spiritual reading, awareness of the divine presence in nature, other human beings and human activities, and the consecration of our work and recreation to God. The list could go on. All these things can prepare us for the Eucharist, and the Eucharist can also be the source of greater love in our performance of these activities.
In this time when we neither attend Mass nor receive the Eucharist, we need not despair. Not every climber reaches the summit of every mountain nor does every explorer reach the source of every river they follow upstream. Yet, their climbing and their exploring have their own value. They are also likely preparations for a future time when the source and the summit may indeed be reached.
With a highly contagious disease let loose on the world, we should see this as a period for strengthening our foundations below the summit. It can be a special time of personal prayer and Scripture study rather than seen as a time that we have been deprived of the Eucharist. We can light a candle rather than curse the darkness.
In many eras and in many places in the world today, the Eucharist has not been accessible. For centuries, Catholics practised an exaggerated reverence when they rarely approached the altar to receive Holy Communion. Yet men and women became holy, and the Church became strong.
Today, the celebration of the Eucharist can be found readily on TV and the Internet. In recent days, I have participated virtually in online Eucharists celebrated by Pope Francis and Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith. These were moving experiences. As well, Salt and Light TV telecasts daily Mass four times a day. Although we cannot receive Our Lord’s body and blood at this time, we can participate in liturgy as fully as during those long centuries during which the faithful went to dank churches with non-existent sound systems.
We will rejoice when we can return to our churches to again celebrate the Eucharist in our beloved communities. We will also rejoice if, because of this period of self-isolation, fewer people have died due to COVID-19. We may rejoice even further if we have used this time to deepen our prayer lives and our knowledge of the faith. The waters will flow more abundantly from the source, and the summit will be upheld by an even stronger foundation.
(Glen Argan is blogging frequently during the pandemic on his website, www.glenargan.com. This article, originally published in The Catholic Register, is the full version of a blog post from March 22.)